Five Alternative Input Devices Used in PC Gaming

Since the GUI (graphical user interface) was first included on home computers, developers have been designing games that use the mouse to give fluid control over the gaming environment to the player. Over the past several decades, advances in input devices have given PC gamers a wide range of new and interesting methods for interacting with games. Here are five alternative input devices used in PC gaming:

3D Mouse
While this input device still carries the name mouse, it is very different from the 2D flat-surface device commonly associated with the term. Unlike its traditional cousin, the 3D mouse has the ability to pan, roll, tilt, zoom, and spin. Most of them accomplish all this while remaining stationary, without having to actually side across the desk at all. This input device is used in gaming and virtual worlds as a way to navigate the 3D environment without the barrier of a single plane of travel. It is also used in more serious 3D modeling applications. One of the more popular examples of 3D mouse technology is the SpaceNavigator by 3D Connexion.

A flight simulator just wouldn’t be the same without a joystick. Sure, you can pilot a 747, drive a tank in to battle, or take to the skies in a Sopwith Camel with your keyboard and mouse, but what’s the fun in that? The joystick has been an integral part of the overall gaming industry since before the days of arcades, and will likely be around for some time to come. Over time, these devices have evolved from simple sticks with a single button on them to ultra-realistic reproductions including force-feedback and more buttons than most games (or simulators) would even begin to utilize.

Steering Wheel
Do you fancy yourself a Nascar driver? Do you enjoy playing games like Need for Speed? The steering wheel, like the joystick, is the perfect solution for a particular kind of game. Over the years, the once simple steering wheel has become more full featured. Many of them include the gas and brake pedals and a multitude of buttons to make sure you don’t get stuck having to grab the keyboard or mouse during the game. Also like the joystick, many models of steering wheels have force feedback which gives you a physical indication that you’re driving over rough terrain, or in to a tree.

Possibly one of the most iconic symbols of video gaming is the gamepad. Often referred to as a “controller”, this handheld device single-handedly defined game control on consoles and it can be used in much the same way on PC games as well. In fact, the Xbox and PlayStation gamepads can be plugged in to a PC and used in much the same way (with a little setup). These handheld controllers often offer a combination of buttons. Directional controls, typically set on the left, are given through either a D-pad, analog stick, or combination of the two. Action commands are typically given using buttons spread across the right side and forefinger positions.

Hybrid Controllers
Potentially one of the most impressive and complex game controllers used on the PC today comes in the form of a hybrid controller. This input device generally resembles a section of a keyboard placed on a surface built especially for a single hand. It can combine aspects of a joystick, gamepad, keyboard and even a 3D mouse. Typically stationary, these devices are intended to replace the keyboard almost entirely when gaming. One example of this kind of controller is the Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard.